A feeling of obligation to mark the holidays and the end of the year by buying gifts can complicate our workplace relationships. If you do decide to give gifts to your boss or coworkers, remember that it doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful. Learning what people will enjoy requires an effort from you or your organization, but this level of thoughtfulness will always pay off in the end.
“I’d like to get my colleagues or boss a gift for the holidays, but what? I don’t want it to look like I’m just trying to ‘look good.’ But I don’t want to give them some trinket that will come across as schmaltzy. What should I get them… if anything?”
Unfortunately, in most work settings, the way gifts are given (as well as what is given and when they are given) reinforce our negative view of gifts in the workplace. Often the gifts are either a meaningless trinket, something self-serving (a form of advertising through logoed items), thoughtless or manipulative.
The best gift requires a level of thoughtfulness, an understanding of the recipients and what might convey meaning to them. Thoughtless gifts, which are those bought hastily in response to tradition or a feeling of obligation, not only miss the mark but also communicate a negative message. These gifts are a perfunctory act and lack a real expression of appreciation.
The gift may or may not be a “thing” – it could be an experience (tickets to an event or sporting event they would really like; a gift card to a nicer restaurant than they typically would choose.) A truly impactful gift is one that shows you took some time and effort to get a gift that would be meaningful to them.
If you choose to give gift cards, participants from research we conducted report preferring gift cards specific to a store more favorably than just a generic gift card. But the caveat is that there is still a large minority who enjoy the more generic gift card. Gift cards from major credit cards, for example, allow people the freedom to purchase whatever they want. What counts is the thought that went into making that selection and the personal expression of appreciation with which it is given.”
Various types of flex- or comp time are also highly desired by more and more employees (paid time off, flexible hours, working remotely.) Since personal time is a valued resource for many, being able to take some time off to run errands, do holiday shopping, exercise, go to doctor’s appointments, or even sleep-in, is typically received with gratitude.
Don’t skimp on the card. Pairing your gift with a thoughtful note can further personalize your appreciation and deepen its impact. A hand-written note shows that you took a moment to reflect upon what you value about that person, what unique contribution they make to your team, and that you care enough to communicate this to them.
If you do not have the time or budget to gift in an effective manner, a sincerely thought-out card can have impact as well. Not just any “Happy Holidays!” card, but one where you take some time to think about you wish to say that will have meaning to them. You might write about what you value about them (how they treat you and others, what they do that makes your daily work easier, character qualities they have that you admire.) Choose your words carefully.)
The way the message is conveyed is equally important. If you have difficult-to-read handwriting, you may want to type it and print it on nice paper. Otherwise, a nice handwritten note is special; or even a picture that conveys part of the message.
For Maximum Impact, Surprise and Delight
Unless you intend to select and present gifts in a meaningful way, consider not giving a gift now. Wait, and give a meaningful gift later, after you have taken time to consider and explore.
One of the key points I learned from John Ruhlin, author of Giftology is that a gift has more impact when it arrives as a surprise. Giving a gift during the holiday season is not going to surprise anyone. So, for maximum effect, wait until January or later in the year or some other important anniversary when the gift will have the most impact.
A feeling of obligation to mark the holidays and the end of the year by buying gifts can complicate our working relationships. If you do decide to give gifts to your boss, coworkers, or customers, remember that it doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful. Learning what people will enjoy requires an effort from you, but this level of thoughtfulness will always pay off.
For More Information
Dr. Paul White
President, Appreciation at Work
Education, Certifications, and Information to Activate
Brand Media and Enterprise Engagement
A complete learning, certification, and information program and a course syllabus for educators.
Resources: The Brand Media Coalition, the only guide to the story-telling power of brands and where to source them for business, event, promotional gifting, and rewards and recognition. Enterprise Engagement Solution Provider Directory. The only directory of engagement solution providers covering all types of agencies and tactics as well as insights on how to select them.
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The EEA offers a complimentary course syllabus for educators.
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Enterprise Engagement Benchmark Tools: The Enterprise Engagement Alliance offers three tools to help organizations profit from Engagement. Click here to access the tools.
• ROI of Engagement Calculator. Use this tool to determine the potential return-on-investment of an engagement strategy.
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For more information, contact Bruce Bolger at Bolger@TheEEA.org, 914-591-7600, ext. 230.